Every Saturday morning from April through October, a group of birdenthusiasts meets at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden to enjoy a relaxed stroll through the Garden and discover what is going on in the world of birds for that week.
In spring we see dozens of species, including warblers, thrushes, native sparrows and a host of others as they stop for food and rest on their way north. They are sporting their bright breeding plumage, and we marvel at the variety of colors, behaviors and sounds that fill the Garden. We learn the songs of the birds and watch for such mating rituals as chasing, bowing, feeding each other and collecting nesting materials.
Some of the migrating birds will stay for the summer to raise a family. These include the indigo bunting, great-crested flycatcher, common yellowthroat, ruby-throated hummingbird and sometimes even the brilliant scarlet tanager. There are also lots of birds that make the Wildflower Garden their home year-round, such as the piliated woodpecker, cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches.
Summertime is full of bird songs and fledglings of many species that have just left the nest and are figuring out how their wings work. They often look a little rumpled as their feathers are still growing. They make clumsy crash landings on branches and call to their parents for food and maybe a little reassurance. Later in the season, the goldfinches are doing their roller-coaster displays in the air, and by August we hear the high peeps of their young learning to land on sunflower heads in the prairie.
By fall we see many travelers stop on their way south. The birds who nested here in summer may have left us for the season, but many more will stop in from farther north.
Our variety of habitats, bountiful fruiting trees and other plants and insects provide the fuel the birds need to make their long journey.
On July 12, we were delighted to find four fledgling hawks perched around a stick nest in a pine tree. We believe they had been out of the nest for a few days at most. They called for their parents to bring them food and maybe were a little nervous about a large group of people looking up at them. We watched for a few minutes and then moved along so their parents could feel safe enough to bring their breakfast.
That morning we did not see the parents, and it is sometimes harder to make a positive identification with newly fledged young. The flight feathers on their wings and tail may not be fully grown, and their feathers will not match those of the parents for at least a year.
There are two kinds of forest hawk that we frequently see and hear around the Garden. The Coopers hawk belongs to the accipiter group, which are built with short, broad wings and long tails for maneuvering through the forest. Coopers hawks are rarely vocal, but we often see them gliding through and above the trees in search of small prey.
The broad-winged hawk is one of the soaring hawks, or buteos. They have shorter tails and broader wings for soaring. They hunt small mammals, reptiles and birds from a perch in the woods. We often hear them as they fly over the treetops calling with a high thin two-syllable whistle.
When I caught up to the hawk family with my camera one afternoon, they had ventured farther from the nest. They had been joined by their parents, and with their very long, rounded tails were most certainly Coopers hawks. The following week we heard the call of an adult Coopers hawk, most likely chasing off a threat to the youngsters.
On September 5, two of the fledglings were seen chasing a squirrel in a tree. No word on whether they made a successful catch–it will take a lot of practice. Soon they would be heading south for the first time. We may or may not see the fledglings again, but their parents will very likely be back to nest in the Garden next year.
We hope more of you will join us next year, as we continue to learn about birds. We always have a nice mix of beginning and experienced birders who enjoy learning and sharing. The Wildflower Garden is a wonderful place to watch the seasons change, and we feel privileged to witness the wonders of birds.
Tammy Mercer is a naturalist working part-time for the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden.
Note: This article was published in the Fringed Gentian™, Autumn 2008, Vol. 56, #4.
A Great Place for Birding – why the Garden is great for birding, including in May after the Spring migration.
EBWG as a Migration Rest Stop – an article addressed to the birds about the benefits of Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden as a migration rest stop.
Many Colors of Feathers (The) – about the color of bird feathers and why we see the colors the way we do.
Native Plants - for the Birds – about interactions of plants, insects and bird life. Illustrated.
Rewards of Summer Birding – summer birding and distinguishing fledglings from adults.
Warblers - Spring Warblers and the little time there is to see them. (This is a 1.0mb pdf file)
Winter Survival of Warm-blooded Critters – how some of the birds and animals survive the winter in the Garden.